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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s punk in the fancy, cultural, Johnny Rotten sense of the term, and then there’s the plain old meaning of the word before it went all meta on us.

The latter perfectly captures the character who lends his name to the vengeance-driven Marvel Comics adaptation Deadpool (Fox).

Sarcasm and splatter predominate in director Tim Miller’s profile of a smart-alecky antihero (Ryan Reynolds) whose machine-gun patter, while undeniably clever at a certain level, reveals a profoundly distorted view of the world. His debased witticisms drag viewers down rather than enlightening them.

These baleful bon mots are delivered along the course of a nasty odyssey marked by relentless grittiness and a series of unpleasant experiences. In fact, as conjured up by screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick — as well as Deadpool’s creators in print, Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld — the protagonist’s biography is, for the most part, a machismo-saturated adolescent fantasy.

Thus, Wade Wilson, as he’s originally known, is a former Special Forces operative — what else would he be? — whose combat experiences, though merely hinted at, have left him as jaded as any existentialist philosopher sipping coffee in a Left Bank cafe. And when he finds true love, wouldn’t you know, it’s with a hooker, Vanessa Carlysle by name (Morena Baccarin).

Wade and Vanessa connect emotionally based on their shared status as damaged goods — if only the world understood us! But their carnal bond is such that we’re shown (all too explicitly) a yearlong round of bedroom romps celebrating the passing holidays. No time for midnight mass in this pair’s Yule.

Even an antihero needs his quest, though, and must be tested by adversity. So Wade takes a bathroom break from Vanessa’s charms, collapses, and is promptly diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Cue a mysterious, unnamed stranger from central casting (Jed Rees) who offers Wade an unorthodox but complete cure. The “treatment” that follows not only heals Wade but transforms him into a superhero with a self-regenerating body. Yet the process involves a series of horrific tortures — something to do with stress unlocking mutant genes — and also winds up horribly disfiguring him.

More than a little teed off by his descent from Ryan Reynolds to the Elephant Man, Deadpool, as he’s now known — please don’t ask why — resolves to catch up with and kill his principal tormentor, a British sounding sadist who goes by the moniker Ajax (Ed Skrein). As if to befuddle Homer fans everywhere, Ajax has an Achilles heel, to wit, his given name is Francis.

Francis, can you imagine? Oh, the lack of testosterone! Wade/Deadpool teases him with a degree of cruelty not to be found this side of your local schoolyard.

So far so good for the ordinary fanboy. But undiluted masculinity is rather politically incorrect.

So, apparently in keeping with his comic-book antecedents, the screen version of Deadpool’s persona comes complete with vague hints of bisexuality. These carry over to his relationship with Vanessa, who experiments with a deviant inversion of gender roles that should have no place in a mainstream movie whatever its rating.

Like the battered prize at the bottom of a box of rancid Cracker Jacks, there are some traces of morality to be found here. Before his illness, Wade puts his thuggish services at the disposal of the vulnerable, scaring off a teen girl’s stalker, for instance. And he does seem poised to forsake his womanizing ways for marriage with Vanessa, though the manner of his proposal is tinged with queasy scatological details meant to be laughably unromantic.

Yet any rewards that might be gained by digging down for such positive fragments are thoroughly cancelled out by an ethics-empty conclusion blatantly denying the inherent value of human life.

The film contains skewed values, including a benign view of violent revenge, constant mayhem with extreme gore, strong sexual content including graphic premarital and aberrant activity as well as full nudity, a few uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Zoolander 2
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Some four decades ago, Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd appeared on NBC’s Saturday Night Live as the Festrunk brothers, two self-billed “wild and crazy guys.”

Flamboyant in dress and as dim as a pair of 40-watt bulbs, these memorable characters successfully diverted viewers for a few minutes at a time.

Flash forward and their would-be modern counterparts are Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, who reprise their roles as outrageous fashion models in Zoolander 2 (Paramount).

Unfortunately, what might be amusing as a brief sketch is stretched to a rather unfunny (and often crude) 102 minutes. Sex jokes and disrespectful references to religion abound.

Like its 2001 predecessor, the film is directed and co-written by Stiller. He also resumes his role as Derek Zoolander. As viewers of the original will remember, Derek once battled his blonde rival, Hansel McDonald (Wilson), for the title of world’s greatest male model, though the two wound up as friends.

Fifteen years have passed since the pals’ glory days, and both men have withdrawn from the fashion world. Derek is in seclusion, mourning the death of his wife, Matilda (Christine Taylor), and the removal of his son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), to an orphanage. Unsurprisingly, Daddy has been deemed an unfit parent.

Hansel, on the other hand, has been busy with his principal hobby: participating in orgies with enthusiasts of both sexes.

The duo is drawn back into the fashion world by fetching Interpol agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz). “Someone is killing the most beautiful people in the world,” she explains. The latest victim is Justin Bieber (playing himself), who’s been gunned down in Rome.

All of the deceased have died with an unusual expression fixed on their faces: a signature pout made popular by Derek.

That clue leads the team to top fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kirsten Wiig). She’s in the Eternal City mounting her runway show. Her intentions are evil, of course, and at her side is the dastardly villain of the first go-round, newly sprung ex-con Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

The baddies are searching for the fountain of youth, and this is where Zoolander 2 goes off the rails with a revisionist take on the Book of Genesis. According to this hip updating of the Creation story, there was a third person in the Garden of Eden: “Steve,” the first male model. He had the gift of eternal youth.

The search is on for Steve’s descendant, the “chosen one,” since whoever drinks his blood will obtain everlasting life. The unlikely scion to whom the trail leads has both an unglamorous demeanour and a weight problem. The script — co-written with Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg — uses this latter fact as the cue for numerous fat jokes.

Derek, Hansel and Valentina are alerted to the conspiracy by rock star Sting, who impersonates a priest and offers them the information in a confessional. Within the same sacred enclosure, Hansel goes on to quiz the singer about his legendary sex life.

None of this is remotely funny. And by the time Mugatu assembles the fashion industry’s movers and shakers (cameos by Valentino, Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Wintour, among others) in a mock religious ceremony involving images reminiscent of the crucifixion, Zoolander 2 has thoroughly outworn its tentative welcome.

The film contains sacrilegious humour, a frivolous treatment of religious themes and of human sexuality, some action violence and frequent crude and profane language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

How to Be Single
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s a disconcerting moral snag in How to Be Single (Warner Bros.), an otherwise appealing, if slightly raunchy, romantic comedy.

This ethical stumbling block fatally impedes the positive overall trajectory of the film, which finds its characters testing their capacities to settle into monogamous relationships and genuine adulthood.

Director Christian Ditter’s adaptation of Liz Tuccillo’s 2007 novel typifies the genre’s addiction to the quirky. Thus, eccentric goings-on abound in this Brooklyn-set story, which registers as a less-racy, robustly heterosexual, aggressively schmaltzy version of the HBO cable TV series Sex and the City.

The women mostly just want to nest, building their lives around a relationship rather than their careers. But, of course, the men dodge long-term commitment, aided by all sorts of self-imposed “rules” designed to prevent emotional intimacy.

Alice (Dakota Johnson), a shy, wisecracking paralegal just out of college, is taking a break from a long relationship with boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun) and moves in with her older sister, gynecologist Meg (Leslie Mann).

On her first day at her law firm, Alice pals up with Robin (Rebel Wilson), a bumptious hedonist (a variation on the old stock character of the lovable lush) who revels in boozy, casual sexual encounters. Robin, who’s mostly just talk, merrily spouts a bodacious riff of earthy sexual references.

Alison Brie as desperate-to-marry Lucy has put her faith in technology: building an algorithm to help her find the right guy online. Still, that doesn’t stop her from carrying on an extended, old-fashioned, in-person flirtation with sympathetic bartender Tom (Anders Holm).

Most of the story is taken up with Alice’s adventures as, inspired by Robin’s lifestyle, she moves into her own apartment in a twinkly version of the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn. In order to be fully in love, the script leads us to believe, Alice must first find out who she really is and what she wants out of life.

All positive material in its way, though similar navel-gazing has been used to justify many a divorce or career of promiscuity. But it’s Meg’s story that throws up the most troubling obstacle.

Having delivered more than 3,000 babies but with no time to cultivate relationships, Meg opts for single motherhood through the use of a sperm donation at an agency she locates online. Although she’s portrayed as a responsible doctor, and serves as Alice’s moral anchor, Meg plans a pregnancy as if she’s shopping for furniture on eBay.

The success of her plan leaves Meg’s much-younger boyfriend, Ken (Jake Lacy), bewildered by her mood swings. Until, that is, they’re apart for a few weeks, and he spots her — now obviously expecting — shopping in an infant-supply store.

Meg personifies the widespread rebellion that has taken hold in contemporary society, against God’s loving plan for sexuality, marriage and child rearing. The ranks of this revolt are not filled with odious evildoers but with people whose confusion or frustration easily wins sympathy.

Driven by a laudable desire to nurture and a deeply human longing for fulfilment, they pursue parenthood outside the context within which God has placed it. In doing so, however, they not only misuse the twin gifts of sexuality and procreation, they also offend against those whom they would foster.

Ironically enough, a story that’s supposedly all about respect for the feelings of others runs aground on the essential issue of respect for the proper passing on of human life.

The film contains a sympathetic portrayal of morally unacceptable actions, fleeting rear male nudity, frequent crude sexual humour, a few scenes of implied sexual activity and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


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